The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Beckett sets aside a whole chapter to describe Murphy’s “mind,” which “pictured itself as a large hollow sphere, hermetically closed to the universe without.” As for his body, Murphy is not in the best of health; more specifically, he gets winded easily and walks with considerable deliberation. Most important, Murphy seeks repose in the mid-distance between the mind and the body, where neither aggravates the other. In the endless struggle between the two, Murphy has sought to call a truce. The other characters insist that mind and body must struggle eternally, and will not leave Murphy alone. In one of the most telling conversations between Celia and Murphy, Murphy tells her, “of you, mind, and body, one must go, or two, or all.”

To understand the “character” of Murphy fully, one must set aside preconceived notions of psychological characterization constructed by an author and given life through the reader’s observations of the character in action, aided by an omniscient narrator. One critic refers to the novel as a sort of “reader-participation” novel, in that the clues to plot and character are disguised as seemingly irrelevant and arbitrary bits of information spilled onto the page as the narrator rushes through the text. Finally, Murphy is not so much a character as an embodiment of an idea, the idea of Beckett’s perceptions of the world—namely, that it is an unfortunate affliction to be born and that the implications of having been born are to be avoided wherever possible. While the other characters act with some attention to cause and effect, Murphy avoids effect by avoiding cause, steering clear of all...

(The entire section is 676 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Murphy, a former theology student in Cork, Ireland, now living in London. He is inclined to be shy of permanent employment and is attractive to women despite a rather yellow complexion and an unusual wardrobe. He is superstitious and obsessed with astrological signs. He finds his greatest pleasure in rocking back and forth in a chair, bound, naked to the seat. Intelligent despite his seeming aimlessness, prone to minor heart attacks, and happiest in deep contemplation, he is supported, in part, by an uncle, Mr. Quigley, who lives in Holland. He likes the color lemon and things that remind him of other things. He takes a job as a night attendant at the Magdalen Mental Mercyseat, a mental institution on the outskirts of London, to please his lover, Celia Kelly.

Celia Kelly

Celia Kelly, a young, blond prostitute who falls in love at first sight with Murphy, as he does with her. She finds the work of being a whore dull, although her grandfather, her nearest surviving relative, knows that she is a good girl and will do a good job, however peculiar or improper it might be. She wants to marry Murphy but insists that he get a steady job. Not very intelligent but a pleasant, pretty girl, she quits work when they move in together and concentrates on urging Murphy to take a job.

Miss Counihan

Miss Counihan, a young woman in love with Murphy, who leaves her behind when he goes to London but promises to...

(The entire section is 604 words.)